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Mediation: Moving from Unforgiveness to Forgiveness


[Marian Eberly (MSW, LCSW, RN, PhD – candidate) is a licensed clinical social worker and registered nurse with nearly 30 years in the healthcare field. She has a counseling practice inPhoenix,Arizona, uniquely incorporating her many years of healthcare experience in the care of the whole person. She is the co-author of The Christian Handbook of Eating Disorders, a frequent conference speaker and certified in Christian Mediation for churches and families. She is our blogger for the month of November, and this is her fourth post.]

One of the challenges counselors face in providing mediation is the central issue of forgiveness, which often emerges (and what I have heard Everett Worthington mention) as \”unforgiveness\”. We all know what unforgiveness looks and feels like. It is a state of soul-rot, quite akin to tree-rot, and when it doesn\’t get addressed the whole tree eventually falls down.

Unforgiveness is a behavioral pattern that consists of a group of complex and intertwined emotions.  A ball of yarn is one long strand going around the center in several directions. So it is with unforgiveness: it goes around and around, establishing layer upon layer of polarizing, self-protective distance from another person. Each layer consists of a mixture of not only negative thoughts, negative emotions (such as hurt, anger, bitterness, resentment) but also memories and other influencers such as brain neurochemistry, hormonal imbalances and other physiological responses.

Unforgiveness shows up early in the mediation process. One primary symptom is rumination: the ability of latching on to (typically negative) thoughts creating a pattern of thinking that is repetitive and seems to have no end. If you have ever seen a toddler chew on a piece of meat way too long before swallowing then you have the picture of rumination. In unforgiveness the mind is set on replaying reasons that support unforgiveness related to the transgression itself, one\’s reaction to it, the motives of the transgressor, etc.

Some mediators do not see it as their role to address the problem of soul-rotting unforgiveness, and in many kinds of mediation work the role is limited to creating agreements and contracts between parties.  However, if the mediator sees his or her role differently with an aim toward healing relationships it would seem reasonable to target the pain related issues especially that of unforgiveness.  In my view, forgiveness is indeed relevant to mediation work if the goal is the redemptive healing of relationships.

When approaching the subject of forgiveness in mediation work, it can be helpful to acknowledge unforgiveness in the room. People are often at different stages of forgiveness when a conflict is being mediated. I recall a gentleman who acknowledged he was in unforgiveness and wanted only to retaliate; he wanted revenge. This opened the door to talk about what unforgiveness is doing to his soul, and also what God has to say about vengeance being His domain and not ours. We feel the need to control and grab what is God\’s alone. The need to control the outcome is a human, albeit unholy response to conflict. In the dynamic of forgiveness (although it is a disciplined decision of the mind) emotions can be in tow for a while, leading to cognitive dissonance and an avoidance of the root issue: to obediently, as an act of worship unto the God we love and serve, forgive.

Moving to forgiveness, in the language of conflict resolution, moves one to change his or her position, it reframes the \”I want\” and helps to refocus on the \”I need\”. For some, forgiveness is helped by hearing the words of being forgiven, or offering words of forgiveness to another (sometimes both need to happen). Redemptive love becomes real when the offender asks for forgiveness, and the one offended can release that person from the chains of unforgiveness. The one forgiving is also loosed.

In closing, the goal of reconciliation incorporates forgiveness in Christ-centered mediation. Mediators can take steps to reduce the unforgiveness and move the parties toward forgiveness. The path involves repentance, humility and a deep dependence on the One who came to show us how to do this work of forgiveness and reconciliation…through the power of the cross.



  1. Paul Robertson says:

    Have recently found that I have been in such a mind trap for over 20 years.

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